In the Netherlands we are sensitive to environmental problems and are aware of our vulnerability as a low-lying nation to rising sea level. After all, you have to if a fifth of your land and a fifth of your people are below sea level.
But I wasn’t too concerned last month when my wife Jeanette and I watched a TV documentary about the melting sea ice in the Arctic. After all, we in the Netherlands spend over €5bn a year on flood protection and the day when we will be truly threatened by rising seas seems a very long way ahead indeed.
Almost by co-incidence, I received a call a few days later from a Canadian asset management company called Arctic Circle Investment Management. Drew from Toronto will be in the Netherlands and he wants to see me.
I mention the call to Geert, my colleague in the investment department. ‘Some people say that a pension fund like ours should manage the risk of climate change in terms of our investment portfolio,’ he says.
‘Don’t forget that we have raised the issue once or twice but the trustees have shown very little interest in paying anyone to look into it for us,’ I reply. ‘Perhaps they will be more interested in the opportunities that come about from climate change.’
A few weeks later Drew is at our offices with his colleague Kirstin. Their flip chart presentation has a picture of a melting glacier on the cover, with the words ‘Investment potential!’.
‘Some people think rising temperatures mean a decrease in Arctic investment opportunities,’ says Drew. ‘In fact, lower levels of Arctic ice are opening up the region for shipping, both for commerce and leisure,’ adds Kirstin.
‘The region desperately needs infrastructure to service these new transport routes and areas of energy exploration, Kirstin continues. ‘We see this as one of the key investment opportunities of the twenty-first century.’
Geert asks about the environmental risks. ‘We think the benefits far outweigh the risk of oil spills or anything like that,’ says Drew. ‘In fact, we think you would find it hard to identify a region in the world with so much potential and so little political risk.’
The pair are not even fazed when I ask about Russia – they even see opportunities there. ‘If you invest in Russian infrastructure you will be Putin’s partner. They are sensible and know they need foreign capital. We have the connections.’
‘You have given a fascinating presentation,’ I tell Drew and Kirstin when they have finished. ‘The problem is that we are not looking for any more illiquid, long-term investments in private equity or infrastructure,’
‘Don’t worry,’ Kirstin replies. ‘We are already working on the world’s first Arctic ETF, so you can access the opportunity of this region through a transparent exchange-listed vehicle!’
Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds